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Lakers vs. Nuggets Preview: The King Meets the Joker With the Finals on the Line

What to Know

  • The Lakers and Nuggets meet in the Western Conference Finals in a rematch from 2020.
  • Former MVPs LeBron James and Nikola Jokic will go head-to-head in a star-studded matchup.
  • Game 1 tips off on Tuesday night at 5:30PM PT on ESPN.

How the West Will Be Won

The Los Angeles and Denver Nuggets are set to square off on Tuesday with the winner of the series advancing to the NBA Finals.

The Lakers are the most decorated franchise in NBA history. Complete with a record-tying 17 championships to their name, they are just eight wins away from surpassing the Boston Celtics for the most Larry O’Brien trophies in history. Somewhere up in heaven, the thought of that has to make Jerry Buss and Kobe Bryant smile.

Meanwhile, the Nuggets are seeking their first appearance in the NBA Finals in franchise history, hoping to erase their name from the list of 11 current NBA teams to have never won a championship.

2020 NBA Finals - Game Six
Owner of the Los Angeles Lakers Jeanie Buss speaks after the Los Angeles Lakers win the 2020 NBA Championship Final over the Miami Heat in Game Six of the 2020 NBA Finals at AdventHealth Arena at the ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex on October 11, 2020 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

Star Power

The Lakers are led by arguably the greatest player of all-time in LeBron James. Personally, James is seeking his fifth championship. Alongside LeBron, is Anthony “The Brow” Davis. James and Davis won the championship in the NBA “Bubble” at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida in the fall of 2020. That season, they also played the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference Finals.

The Lakers are hoping history repeats itself, whereas the Nuggets are looking for some retribution.

Leading the Nuggets is two-time MVP Nikola “The Joker” Jokic. The Joker is once again having an MVP caliber season, finishing in second place behind this year’s winner in Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers. Jokic is averaging 24.5 points, 11.8 rebounds, and 9.8 assists this season.

The Lakers and Nuggets split their four-game season series this season with each team winning every game at home. However, all four of those games occurred before January 9, 2023. That’s roughly 6 weeks before the NBA trade deadline when the Lakers rehauled their entire roster, trading away six players and bringing in six new players that have been an integral part of their roster and deep playoff run.

Needless to say, this series is a coin-toss; some oddsmakers have the Lakers as slight favorites, others have the Nuggets. According to ESPN Analytics, the Nuggets are given a 52 percent chance to win the series, compared to 48 percent for the Lakers.

If experience and star power are what matters, then the Lakers have two of the top-10 players in the NBA and the championship pedigree to get back to the finals. If home-court advantage and a core group that has been together longer is more important, then expect the Nuggets to reach their first ever Finals.

Denver Nuggets v Los Angeles Lakers - Game Five
Anthony Davis #3 of the Los Angeles Lakers, LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers, and Nikola Jokic #15 of the Denver Nuggets look to rebound during Game Five of the Western Conference Finals of the NBA Playoffs on September 26, 2020 at The AdventHealth Arena at ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images)

Keys to Watch For

Nikola Jokic and Anthony Davis are expected to battle it out at the center position on both ends of the floor throughout the series. That means that LeBron James will have to dominate his one-on-one matchup against either Aaron Gordon or Michael Porter Jr. If James can dominate the matchup, then the Lakers have a great chance of advancing.

For the Nuggets, one area they can exploit is at the point guard position. Jamal Murray is back at full-strength after a knee injury sidelined him all of last season. Murray is a defensive nightmare for D’Angelo Russell, so Lakers’ head coach Darvin Ham will likely start another PG in Dennis Schröder alongside Russell in the backcourt to guard Murray.

Look for lengthy and athletic wing-defender Jarred Vanderbilt to also guard Murray. Once again, if the Lakers can slow down Murray, they have a strong chance to advance, but if Murray goes off, that only bodes well for Denver.

Either way, this series will be must-see TV.

Game 1 tips off on Tuesday, May 16, 2023 at 5:30PM PST.

Source: NBC Los Angeles

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